#32. Diana Principe
Diana is one of the partners behind The Mansion on Delaware Avenue, as well as Hotel Henry. We sat down with her and not only learned about how The Mansion came to be, but we heard so much more about entrepreneurship in Buffalo. Let’s learn more about Diana, the Mansion and what she thinks is the right mix to continue the growth that we are seeing in Buffalo.
“I chose to live here. I moved here from New England 23 years ago with an infant and my husband, who was from Buffalo. We knew very much that we wanted to begin our own small hotel. And with an infant, I was adamant that we had to live near someone’s family. We knew that Buffalo had an amazing stock of architecture and we decided to move back to Buffalo to eventually do this [The Mansion]. When we first moved here, we basically had to make a living and reconnect with Buffalo. Gino had been gone for a decade and I had never lived here. We moved into North Buffalo off of Hertel, and for a young mom, that was the best place to live. I met some of my life-long friends over at Delaware Park. It was a great place to introduce myself to the city. We started a cafe and catering company call The Gourmet Store down on Pearl Street. We since sold it, but it still exists today. That’s where we met so many of the clients that we have today over at The Mansion on Delaware Avenue. That’s also where we met our partner, Dennis Murphy. We all had the same idea of taking a historic building and converting it to a hotel. Over many cups of coffee, we realized that we had many common interests, and a partnership was formed.”
About The Mansion
“We purchased the building back in 1997. Over a bit of time, we were finally able to open in April of 2001. The biggest challenge at the time was there was no project for the community to point to and say: “this has been done before, we understand it and we think that you’re going to be successful”. We had many supporters, including Key Bank as well as many members of the community. But, there were just as many, if not more folks who would just sorta give us an odd look when we told them what we were building here. You hadn’t seen this done before here. Thank goodness, over decades we had grassroots efforts and preservationist efforts to preserve these buildings for future use. This building sat vacant for over 25 years! We feel great that we were able to open in 2001, and now there was something to point to. You can do something different. You can do something unexpected, not thought of before. Fast forward to 2016 and now it’s not that people doubt that it can be done, they expected that it will be done. It’s a wonderful attitude for our city to have.”
“This year, we are celebrating our 15th anniversary. The Mansion has a really neat service, which is the service of a butler team. There are many amenities and services that this team provides to our guests, but one of them that our guests really love and is so unique is complimentary downtown Land Rover transportation. Just the other day we were talking about the choices that our butlers would have to match our guest with for entertainment, dining, or businesses to drive them to… there was no Larkin or Canalside back then. There were options, but they were so much more limited. The options are endless now.”
“The Mansion is Buffalo’s first and only AAA 4 Diamond Hotel. We just received our 13th consecutive 4 Diamond Award. Only 5% of properties in the United States receive a 4 Diamond award. We’re really proud of that, and the consistency to maintain that for 13 consecutive years. We proud of our team.”
The Art at The Mansion
“Our curator, Sandra Clark is constantly moving art in and out. It’s all local Western New York artists. How the art impacts the spaces is really interesting. It all came about back in 1997 when Margaret Martin was passing by, and Gino was outside and they started talking about what was going to happen. She was such a huge proponent and when we first opened, she brought over two of her watercolors to hang. We still have them. Then she brought her artist friends and asked if we could also hang their art. It just became so many artists that we felt like we needed a curator, and Sandra stepped forward and she does an amazing jobs of matching artists and artwork with these spaces in the mansion.”
Some more observations about Buffalo
“We have that mix; the grit and determination of the entrepreneurial spirit with the larger scale economic development that is occurring right now. What makes Buffalo so unique, so creative and so dynamic is that we have so much of that entrepreneurial spirit here. If you just look at the hospitality and tourism industry, just the restaurants alone, it’s just amazing. They are all independent concept restaurants. Buffalonians choose independent concept restaurants over a chain.”
“Watching the development of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it’s amazing to see what’s happening there. They are our neighbors. Watching places like Larkinville, and what the Pegulas have done. I can go on and on. It’s just growing around all of us. But it’s that mix that is the key. It’s the magic formula that will allow us to continue growth in Buffalo. That grit and determination sustains us, but to continue the growth, we need the larger growth. It’s not about a silver bullet.”
“One of the things that Buffalo is so great for and what’s so neat about some of the folks that have come back to Buffalo in the last 5 to 8 years, is that they were coming back and saying to themselves “I’m back and I have these skills, and I have these affinities, I just can’t find a job here in Buffalo, oh wait a minute, let me create one for myself.” That’s what Buffalo is so great for. At a time when jobs were and continue to be still a little hard to find, we have these creative people that want to move to Buffalo, take a chance, take a huge risk, with that grit and determination, use their skills to create what isn’t here for them right now. That’s just fantastic. ”
“We see a lot of expats here at The Mansion. We see brides who are having their weddings here in Buffalo because they live in Boston or Chicago but want the flavor of Buffalo. They not only want to experience it, but they want their new friends from these larger cities to see their Buffalo. We see more and more of that. Often times, local hospitals or businesses will put their guests here because they want them to see the best of Buffalo, and there’s so much to see now. I think that companies are finding it easier and easier to recruit talent to Buffalo, folks to have never lived here, because Buffalo offers so much, and the cost of living is so low. It’s just the entire combination.”
Any predictions or goals?
“We are opening Hotel Henry in the old Richardson Olmsted Complex. That is a huge goal! We’re very excited about that. This is the first phase of the development of the complex. Hotel Henry as well as the Buffalo Architecture Center will be about one third of the entire space. We’re slated to open in April of 2017. That’s both a personal and a business goal. I’ve also been on the advisory board for the School of Hospitality and Tourism at Buffalo State for several years now, as well as a lecturer there. The SUNY system has just accredited Hotel Henry as a practicum experiential learning center for Buffalo State students in the Hospitality and Tourism Department. That’s a program that I’m very excited about. Students will be able to have experiential learning opportunities for two semesters in Hotel Henry.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I was able to raise a family and build businesses and I chose to do it in Buffalo, and man, that was a great choice. One thing I would tell my younger self is to travel more for what the experiences teach you. We love looking at what other facilities do, and we get inspiration from them. The more that you can travel, the more than you can experience what other people are doing and it can inspire you. The Mansion is constantly evolving, and that comes from the inspiration that we find from our coworkers, guests and community, but also from outside the community. I guess I would have said “you need to get out there and experience a little bit more. It will give you even more inspiration.””
- Karen Fashana – Visit Buffalo Niagara
- Ali Eagan & Erica Eichelkraut – Zibauer – Buffalo Indie Weddings
- Alyson O’Connor – Rust Belt Love
- Jake Schneider – Schneider Architecture and Development
- Patrick Finan & Brandon Davis – Block Club
- Mike Morga – Peyton Barlow Contractors